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ADSHEAD: Please, lawmakers, surprise us – and yourselves, too

By   /   January 7, 2013  /   No Comments

By Kirsten Adshead  |  Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON – The political world could learn a lot from the first movie date I shared with my husband.

Back in 2007, trying to be the cool new girlfriend, I’d accepted his offer for a trip to the local drive-in theater, a double feature that included the “Halloween” remake.

DO IT FOR THEM: Wisconsin lawmakers, including new Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, pictured, began a new session Monday pledging bipartisanship once again. They could do Wisconsin a world of good by keeping that pledge. (AP Photo, Scott Bauer)

Ten minutes in, my eyes tightly shut, my fingers in my ears, I hummed (quietly, I thought) to keep from hearing the apparently imminent on-screen death of a young girl.

My husband graciously gave up. We went home – and we’ve never since attempted to watch a horror movie together.

For my part, I have pledged never to drag him to a chick flick.

So we end up watching a lot of James Bond, Jason Bourne and Ethan Hunt.

But on occasion we have to do some digging – and happily have discovered movies we now love, such as, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”

Compromise, over movies or politics, doesn’t have to be a thing of evil.

Sometimes it even yields a pleasant surprise.

There’s no need to recap the past two years at Wisconsin’s Capitol. My nightmares to this day are filled with car horns beeping “this is what democracy looks like.”

No one came out of the 2011-13 biennium looking good, and there is plenty of blame to go around.

Unions likely could have avoided some of the mayhem by agreeing, years ago, to make larger contributions to their health care and pension plans, thereby damping many Wisconsinites’ resentment that taxpayers were footing the bill for cushy public-workers’ benefits while private-sector benefits took a beating.

Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP leadership, meanwhile, could have done much more to share their plans up front, instead of ramming through wide-ranging legislation with little regard for differing opinions and only a cursory nod to public notice and input.

When the previous legislative session began two years ago, I wrote this: “Smiles and applause greeted Gov. Scott Walker and lawmakers as they took office Monday, pledging cooperation and bipartisanship in advance of their battle to address a projected $3 billion budget deficit.”

Twenty-four hours later, we ran this headline: “Assembly committee for special session turns sour,” over an article that read in part, “Any appearance that … this session would be guided by partisan ideals and bipartisanship was thrown out the window this afternoon,” then-Rep. Donna Seidel, a Wausau Democrat, said.

On Monday, the rhetoric sounded familiar.

“Working together with both Republicans and Democrats, we will focus on policies that help the private sector create jobs, transform education, reform government, develop our workforce, and improve our infrastructure,” Walker said in a statement.

“This session we must bury the partisan hatchet that chopped away at our Wisconsin values and legislative traditions and poisoned Wisconsin politics. We must end the extremism that resulted in valuable legislation being ignored and rushed legislation tied up in court,” Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, wrote in a statement of his own. 

How authentic is this spirit of bipartisanship is, and how long will it last?

A lot depends on us, Wisconsin.

A Wisconsin Reporter Facebook friend recently wrote that “I don’t believe in all this compromise crap going on in the Federal Government. You cannot compromise on the principles that make a country or a state great.”

Standing on principle can be bold and courageous.

It even makes a great country tune.

But when “principled stance” is simply code for “I want what I want and I won’t listen to anyone else,” well, then it’s really  just a road map for grid lock and the status quo.

“Standing on principle,” after all, led to tens of thousands protesters marching on Madison in 2011.

And “standing on principle” got us the 2012 “fiscal cliff” agreement – you know the one, where Congress fought over limited tax hikes without seriously addressing any questions about the role of government, instead setting up a late-February battle over the debt ceiling that may make the “fiscal cliff” debate  look like a mid-summer country stroll.

Compromise, meanwhile, can get us far more than a bum deal.

Compromise was the heart of the Emancipation Proclamation, a key step toward ending slavery in this country.

And compromise led to the “Tax Reform Act of 1986,” the last major tax overhaul the United States has seen. Passed under the oversight of President Ronald Reagan, the deal significantly lowered the top tax rate but also eliminated billions of dollars’ worth of tax deductions.

On occasion, compromise can even get you a “Looper.”

Last week, bound by our agreement to bypass “Hope Springs” and “Resident Evil: Retribution”, my husband and I settled on “Looper,” the 2012 Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt action thriller, which surprisingly turned out to be one of our favorite movies of the year.

So, yes, compromise can mean that everyone walks away unhappy. (It did, after all, saddle us with Congress.)

But when the search for compromise is legitimate, people can come away with a better deal than they would have conceived on their own.

That’s the lesson of the great “Halloween” debacle of 2007.

Here’s hoping lawmakers learn it in 2013.

Contact Kirsten Adshead at kadshead@wisconsinreporter.com.

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